moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in this House to begin the debate on Bill , concerning an independent review for the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Canada Border Services Agency ensures Canada's security and prosperity by facilitating and overseeing international travel and trade across Canada's borders. On a daily basis, CBSA officers interact with thousands of Canadians and visitors to Canada at airports, land border crossings, ports and other locations. Ensuring the free flow of people and legitimate goods across our border while protecting Canadians requires CBSA officers to have the power to arrest, detain, search and seize, as well as the authority to use reasonable force when it is required.
Currently, complaints about the service provided by the CBSA officers and about the conduct of those officers are handled internally. If an individual is dissatisfied with the results of an internal CBSA investigation, there is no mechanism for the public to request an independent review of these complaints.
The Government of Canada recognizes that a robust accountability mechanism can help ensure public trust that Canada's public safety institutions are responsive to the law and to Canadians. That is why I am honoured today to initiate debate on Bill .
I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge the excellent and extraordinary work of two former parliamentarians: former senator Wilfred Moore and my predecessor, former public safety minister Ralph Goodale, who worked tirelessly to advocate for effective CBSA oversight.
This important piece of legislation that is before us today would establish an independent review and complaints mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency. This will address the significant accountability and transparency gap among our public safety agencies and departments here in Canada
Among our allies, Canada is alone in not having a dedicated review body for complaints regarding its border agency. The CBSA is also the only organization within the public safety portfolio without its own independent review body.
The resolution of conduct complaints is critically important to maintaining public trust. We already know that many CBSA activities, such as customs and immigration decisions, are subject to independent review. Unfortunately, as of yet, there is no such mechanism for public complaints related to CBSA employee conduct and service.
I will provide some context for my colleagues and for Canadians. The agency deals with an extraordinary and staggering number of people and a huge volume of transactions each and every year. For example, in 2018-19, CBSA employees interacted with over 96 million travellers to and from Canada and collected on behalf of Canadians $32 billion in taxes and duties. Behind these extraordinary numbers is the story of all of us, Canadians in all walks of life and in all parts of our country who rely on the services of our border services agencies. Together, we expect that in the majority of cases we will receive, and do receive, a high degree of professionalism when travelling abroad for work and for leisure. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many members of the Canada Border Services Agency for their service to Canadians and for their professionalism they give their duties.
It is a fact that when dealing with that many travellers it is inevitable that some complaints may arise. That is why, in order to maintain the public trust in our system and to strengthen accountability for the important role that the border service officers perform for us, it is imperative that we have an independent review body to ensure that any negative experience is thoroughly investigated and quickly and transparently resolved.
Currently, if there are complaints from the public regarding the level of service provided by CBSA or the conduct of CBSA officials, they are handled through an internal process within the agency. Our government has taken action in recent years to rectify gaps with respect to the independent review of national security activities.
We have passed legislation to create the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians which recently published its first annual report. With the passage of Bill , our government has also established the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. With these two initiatives under way, now is the time to close a significant gap in Canada's public safety and national security accountability framework. This is exactly where Bill comes in.
The existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or CRCC as it is commonly known, is at the heart of this proposed legislation. The CRCC currently functions as the independent review and complaints body for the RCMP. Under Bill , its responsibilities would be strengthened and it would be renamed the public complaints and review commission, or PCRC. The new PCRC would be responsible for the handling of complaints and conducting reviews for the CBSA in addition to its current responsibilities with respect to the RCMP.
When the PCRC receives a complaint from the public, it would notify the CBSA immediately which would undertake the initial investigation. This is an efficient approach that has proven to lead to a resolution of the overwhelming majority of complaints. In fact, in the case of the RCMP, some 90% of complaints against the conduct or service of the RCMP are resolved in this way.
The PCRC would also be able to conduct its own investigation to the complaint if, in the opinion of the chairperson, it is in the public interest to do so. In those cases, the CBSA would not initiate an investigation into the complaint. In other cases where the complainant may not be satisfied with the CBSA's initial handling of the complaint, the complainant could ask the PCRC directly to begin a review of it. When the PCRC receives such a request for review over a CBSA complaint decision, the commission could review the complaint and all relevant information, sharing its conclusions regarding the CBSA's initial decision. It could conclude that the CBSA decision was appropriate. It may instead ask that the CBSA investigate further or it can initiate its own independent investigation of the complaint.
The commission also would have the authority to hold a public hearing as part of its work. At the conclusion of a PCRC investigation, the review body would be able to report on its findings and make such recommendations as it sees fit. The CBSA would be required to provide a response in writing to the PCRC's findings and its recommendations.
In addition to the complaints function, the PCRC would be able to review on its own initiative or at the request of me or any minister any activity of the CBSA except for national security activities. These, of course, are reviewed by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency which is now in force.
PCRC reports would include findings and recommendations on the adequacy, appropriateness and clarity of CBSA policies, procedures and guidelines; the CBSA's compliance with the law and all ministerial directions; and finally, the reasonableness and necessity of CBSA's use of its authorities and powers.
With respect to both its complaint and review functions, the PCRC would have the power to summon and enforce the appearance of persons before it. It would have the authority to compel them to give oral or written evidence under oath. It would have the commensurate authority to administer oaths, to receive and accept oral and written evidence, whether or not that evidence would be admissible in a court of law.
The PCRC would also have the power to examine any records or make any inquiries that it considers necessary. It would have access to the same information that the CBSA possesses when a chairman's complaint is initiated.
Beyond its review and complaint functions, Bill would also create an obligation to the CBSA to notify local police and the PCRC of any serious incident involving CBSA employees or its officers. That includes giving the PCRC the responsibility to track and publicly report on all serious incidents such as death, serious injury, or Criminal Code violations involving members of the CBSA.
Operationally, the bill is worded in such a way as to give the PCRC flexibility to organize its internal structure as it sees fit to carry out its mandate under both the CBSA Act and the RCMP Act. The PCRC could designate members of its staff as belonging either to an RCMP unit or a CBSA unit. Common services such as corporate support could be shared between both units which would make them more efficient, but there are also several benefits to be realized by separating staff in the fashion that I have described.
For example, staff could develop a certain expertise on matters involving these two agencies, their operational procedures and other matters. Clearly identifying which staff members are responsible for which agency may also help with the clear management of information.
Bill would also make mandatory the appointment of a vice-chair for the PCRC. This would ensure that there would always be two individuals at the top, a chairperson and a vice-chair, capable of exercising key decision-making powers. Under Bill , the PCRC would publish an annual report covering each of its business lines, the CBSA and the RCMP, and the resources that it has devoted to each.
The report would summarize its operations throughout the year and would include such things as the number and type of complaints, and any review activities providing information on the number, type and outcome of all serious incidents. To further promote transparency and accountability, the annual report would be tabled in Parliament.
The new public complaints and review commission proposed in Bill would close a significant gap in Canada's public safety accountability regime.
Parliamentarians, non-government organizations and stakeholders have all been calling upon successive governments to initiate such a reform for many years. For example, in June 2015, in the other place, the committee on national security and defence tabled a report which advocated for the establishment of an independent civilian review and complaints body with a mandate to conduct investigations for all CBSA activities. More recently, Amnesty International, in Canada's 2018 report card, noted that the CBSA remains the most notable agency with law enforcement and detention powers in Canada that is not subject to independent review and oversight.
National security expert and law professor Craig Forcese is quoted as saying that CBSA oversight is “the right decision”. Government expert Mel Cappe said that it is “filling the gap”. I would importantly note that the proposed legislation before the House benefited from invaluable advice proposed to the government by Mr. Cappe.
To support this legislation, we have allocated $24 million to expand the CRCC to become an independent review body for the CBSA. With the introduction of Bill , proper oversight is on track to becoming a reality.
In the last Parliament, this bill received all-party support in the House in recognition of its practical contents that seek to maintain the integrity of our border services and to instill confidence in Canadians that their complaints will be heard independently and transparently. Though the bill was supported unanimously at third reading, it unfortunately did not receive royal assent by the time the last Parliament ended.
We have heard concerns from many members in this House about the date of tabling, and we are now reintroducing this bill at our very first opportunity as part of the 43rd Parliament. This will be the third consecutive Parliament to consider legislation to create an oversight body for the CBSA. It is overdue.
For all of these reasons, I proudly introduce Bill . I am happy to take any questions my colleagues may have.
Madam Speaker, as always it is a privilege to rise in the House and speak to an important issue, the protection of Canadians in our communities. That is the top priority of this House, something I have said for several years, and I am happy to hear the new beginning to echo those same sentiments.
Bill from the previous Parliament session, renamed Bill in this session, proposes to repurpose and rename the RCMP's civilian complaints commission to the “public complaints and review commission” and expand its mandate to review both the RCMP and the CBSA.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the RCMP and CBSA members for the incredible work and service they provide to Canadians.
I am privileged to be the first to rise on behalf of the official opposition and say that our team is cautiously optimistic of this legislation. Our Conservative team supports that all governments, employees and elected officials should be accountable to the people and the taxpayer. Public servants across the country must be held to the standards expected of Canadians, which is to uphold the integrity of people who are visiting or passing through our country, while ensuring our laws and international laws are upheld. For those reasons, a properly implemented oversight agency, as is used by police services across the country, including the RCMP, seems to be a sound policy and certainly long overdue.
In 2016, Ralph Goodale, the previous public safety minister, testified he was already working on the issue and prevented legislation from others to proceed.
In 2017, Mel Cappe provided his advice, which is captured in this bill, to create a civilian oversight body. Unfortunately, it took until the last days of the previous Parliament session for the Liberals to move ahead. Hopefully, the retabling of the bill three months into this new session suggests the Liberals are certainly taking this issue seriously.
Canadians expect federal law enforcement to act to uphold our laws and to be held accountable if it does not. This bill will align well with the values of many Canadians and the values of the Conservative team. However, it would not have been my top priority. Rather, I would have liked to talk about issues that at this time are of top priority to Canadians, such as the 134,000 people from across this country who have signed e-petition 2341. Currently, it is the largest e-petition in Canadian history and is the third largest in all of Canadian petition history, only behind the 1949, 625,000 hard-copy petition for the Canadian Bill of Rights and the 1975 petition on not proceeding with the abortion law. Of course, I am thrilled to be the sponsor of that petition. It highlights the flaws in the Liberal plan to target law-abiding Canadian gun owners for the actions of criminals and gangs.
I would have also liked to talk about the issue of rural crime and how it impacts all rural communities, especially those where the RCMP are left short-handed, and about the lack of a Liberal plan to deal with the skyrocketing opioid crisis in our communities, all the deaths that are occurring and the public safety concerns of gangs, shootings and illegal firearms. We should be talking about the erosion of our border security under the current Liberal government, not just with respect to the crisis of illegal border crossers, but also with drugs, handgun smuggling, human trafficking by many of the gangs running drugs, and the massive backlogs in the monitoring and deportation of known terrorists, criminals and national security risks.
However, we are here today to talk about Bill , an oversight bill. Oversight is good. It ensures that people know that there is someone who will look into actions that are not in keeping with our laws. This bill should provide investigative powers, an ability to review situations, provide feedback and determine the course of action on scope and scale with anyone who violates our laws and principles.
Bill proposes to repurpose and rename the RCMP civilian complaints commission to the “public complaints and review commission” and expand its mandate to both the RCMP and the CBSA.
Since coming into government, the Liberals have added numerous layers of oversight, bureaucracy and process into national security and public safety with very little action that actually protects Canadians.
The Liberals have added the parliamentary National Security and Intelligence oversight committee, the new National Security and Intelligence review committee, the expanded Intelligence Commissioner and now the expanded role of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
This is on top of the existing reviews that include the , the , the , the national security advisor and now the newly appointed .
I certainly hope we do not have investigations by seven or eight federal agencies with respect to this one complaint and what this act is supposed to do.
Over the last five years, the Liberals have committed $150 million on boosting oversight. In contrast, between 2015 and 2019, they promised $400 million to policing and gangs, but delivered next to nothing.
Members will stand and say that oversight is the right way to go and that this bill, with some edits, as has already been mentioned in a previous question, could actually benefit Canadians. It will be important to ensure the right amendments are in place.
The bill would create a mechanism to complain about inappropriate actions by border officers. Police agencies have had civilian oversight and review for decades, and it is common practice around the world for law enforcement. It seems logical that a large enforcement agency, like CBSA, should have the same checks and balances. This will help officers who are wrongly accused to show that they acted appropriately, if they did, and it will remind officers that they are not above the law, which is something we all need.
However, the bill is silent on holding people accountable. The public complaints and review committee can examine evidence, call witnesses and write a report, but the bill seems silent on how officers who violate the law, code or principle can be held accountable.
I have not been in Parliament as long as some, but anyone who has paid attention to the Auditor General or other parliamentary officers can see a pattern: programs, services and reviews designed to look like they address issues, but lack any kind of accountability or powers to hold people accountable.
The Liberals are repeating the same thing over and over again. They gave us a new agency, a new commission, a new committee or another new bureaucracy, but refuse to put in place any measures that would take steps to correct the problems the commission or committee was there to deal with in the first place.
Let me use Vice-Admiral Norman as an example. The personally pointed the finger at Vice-Admiral Norman. The vice-admiral was fired and charged with serious offences. The Prime Minister said that he supported the RCMP in its investigations, but made no effort to provide full evidence to support its investigations or refute that investigation. It is only when Vice-Admiral Norman's attorney interviewed former Conservative ministers from the Harper administration that suddenly the case fell apart and the vice-admiral was completely exonerated.
A report into this civilian oversight committee, and I can only speculate since the continues to use cabinet confidence to cover up his trail, would probably reveal a use of select evidence, a plan to railroad and to blame a decorated officer in an attempt by the Prime Minister to hold the truth from Canadians.
Under this model, it should stop there. There would be no actions or recourse to address the issue to stop it from happening again, as is the case with Vice-Admiral Norman. There is no punishment for a corrupt politician to attack and railroad an honoured and decorated officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The House and the committee can and should give this bill proper scrutiny. While the idea seems sound and the model certainly better than in other legislation, I am very wary of anything the government does on borders. It has not managed our borders well and have not been upfront with the House of Commons or Canadians about those issues.
In 2017, the Liberals told us there was nothing to worry about with the tens of thousands of people crossing illegally into Canada. They told us they did not need new resources, security was going well and everything was just fine.
In reality, security was being cut in other areas to deal with the volumes of illegal border crossers, provinces and cities were drowning in costs and overflowed shelters, border and RCMP agencies were stretched and refugee screenings were backing up. According to the ministers at the time, everything was fine.
Then, three budgets delivered new funding and changes and a promise to deal with issues facing our border. Billions were spent on this issue, another example of mismanagement for the taxpayer to clean up, and things are no better. However, we still continue to pay millions to deal with the issue without any reduction in the problem.
What should we scrutinize?
First, we should ensure we hear from those people impacted by the decision, such as groups like front-line RCMP and CBSA officers who would be subjected to the evaluations this oversight committee would have. We were shocked in the last session that neither the RCMP or the CBSA unions were involved. However, again, that is not necessarily new in the consultation policies of the government.
A news article stated, “The union representing border officers has heard little about the proposal and was not consulted on the bill”, that being the former Bill C-98, an nearly identical bill to this one. It went on to say, “Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), said the president of the CBSA also was left in the dark and could not inform the union of any details of the legislation.”
My hope is that this has been taken care of, or will be taken of. However, in speaking with those two bodies, with the National Police Federation, on the previous bill, I am left with the impression that the Liberals did not consult them either.
As members heard earlier, I had ask the minister if the government had corrected it this time. I guess we will find out once it gets to committee, and my colleagues will hear from those individuals who I just mentioned.
We will want to hear from impacted Canadians on this matter. There should not be a need to get high-priced lobbyists involved to get the minister's attention.
We should also ensure that Canadians do not need to hire lawyers to get access to the Complaints Commission and its processes, which is critical for those who might be impacted by any impropriety during a border crossing.
Further, we need to ensure that the minister and his staff, and other leaders across the public safety spectrum, cannot get their hands on the processes and decisions of these oversight bodies.
Finally, I want to mention the issue of the Liberals using their majority to ram things through despite serious issues in the last Parliament.
I call on and expect all members of the public safety and emergency preparedness committee to abide by their own judgment of the testimony of experts and witnesses and not the will of the minister's staff or demands of the political arm of the PMO. Also, timelines are constructed by the committee not the or his staff. Knowing that the current and the former chair of the public safety committee is a scrupulous and honoured individual, I trust he will not suggest that legislation needs to be finished by a certain deadline to make a minister or staff happy before members can hear appropriate testimony.
There is a lot of trust and faith needed, obviously, for the House to work well together on any legislation, and certainly this one is no exception. Trust is built through honest answers and legitimate questions. Trust is reinforced by following integrity and the need to get it right rather than just to be right.
I hope the minister will be clear with committee members on spending, resources, his proposed plans and the areas where we can all improve, or certainly the government can improve on the track record from the past. Perhaps with new legislation in this new session, we can see the government try to broker such trust, starting with Bill . We will wait to see if that to happen.
Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is very happy that this bill has been introduced. We were taken for a ride in the previous Parliament. Bill was introduced too late and unfortunately died on the order paper. I hope that we will have time to pass Bill before the next election, which is looming over our heads like the sword of Damocles.
The Bloc Québécois plans to vote in favour of Bill , as it did with Bill . There is no surprise there.
The current situation is untenable. The statistics are alarming. From 2016 to 2018, there were 1,200 complaints, including 59 allegations of harassment, 38 allegations of criminal association and five allegations of sexual assault. Those are striking figures. The Canada Border Services Agency is short-staffed. Complaints may not always be given the attention they deserve. We think that an independent commissioner should be appointed.
It is also not right that the CBSA itself hears complaints about its own services. That obviously does not meet the minimum legal requirements, whether under natural law or in accordance with the rights set out in our charters regarding an impartial hearing before those concerned. Since the commissioner would be a third party, we believe that he could deal with any complaints filed with his office in a serious, impartial, fair and independent manner—at least that is what we hope. We believe that creating the commissioner's office would make this possible.
This is nothing new. I looked at the statistics on the various complaints that were filed. In 2017-18 alone, just two years ago, there were reports of racist and rude comments. Officers allegedly searched cellphones without putting them in airplane mode, which is illegal. Searches can be conducted legally if the phone is in airplane mode, but not otherwise. In some situations, officers allegedly took photos of the information contained in cellphones. They also allegedly forced someone to open their banking app. All of these things are unacceptable.
Some people complained about rude treatment. Apparently an officer shouted and insulted travellers. In another case, people who had dealings with the CBSA were told there was no interpretation service available, which meant that they were unable to communicate with the officer. One officer was racist and told a client he was ugly. That is unconscionable. This is not a banana republic.
We think complaints should be treated with respect, as should all CBSA clients, whether they are right or wrong, which is a different story. At a bare minimum, these requests should be handled respectfully and attentively.
Last year, the member for quoted something Justice O'Connor said over 10 years ago. He recommended introducing a CBSA oversight mechanism. More recently, an immigration lawyer named Joel Sandaluk said this on CBC: “CBSA, for many years, has been a law unto itself. It's hard to imagine an organization with the size and the complexity and the amount of responsibility and authority of an agency like this would be completely without any kind of oversight.”
He added that the statistics may have been skewed, but temporary residents of or visitors to Canada were in fact not here long enough to file a complaint. Obviously, he did not even mention those who do not file complaints out of fear of reprisal. It is a troubling situation and according to Mr. Sandaluk, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.
CBC mentioned the case of a woman deported to Guatemala who was allegedly pushed to the ground by an officer, who is alleged to have kicked her and dug his knee into her back. That is outrageous. When we read these reports, these statistics, we do not get the impression that this is a professional border services agency that serves a country like Canada and serves the people and the visitors of Quebec who have to deal with them.
More recently, just a few weeks ago, the Canadian Press reported some statistics. The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group of Toronto said that the definition of a founded complaint in the CBSA reports was too vague to allow adequate changes or adjustments to be made. This is just another situation that does not help to improve the services provided by the agency.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, told Radio-Canada that the agency and its customs officers had not followed acceptable practices for handling the personal information of Canadian citizens re-entering the country. It is not your ordinary Joe saying it, it is the commissioner himself. He added that the line had been crossed.
It is ridiculous. It is about time that we acknowledge and address this issue.
According to other information made public by Radio Canada, a CBSA officer apparently shredded his handwritten notes three days after receiving a call from one of the commissioner's investigators.
For all these reasons, we believe that Bill must be implemented as quickly as possible. Once again, they must not play the same trick on us that they did with Bill , which was introduced before this bill. We believe that Bill C-3 should be referred to a committee right away.
In closing, I want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois is not blaming the officers or the agency. That is up to the commissioner, if warranted, and if designated.
We believe that the Canada Border Services Agency has not had the benefit of adequate oversight, which it should have received from the proper authorities. Respectfully, the responsibility lies with the current Liberal government and its predecessor, the Conservative government. We believe that the time has come to address this issue and we are grateful for Bill C-3.
I would also like to add that the union representing the CBSA officers should appear before the committee when it studies the bill. We hope that the bill will be referred to a committee as soon as possible. The committee should make every effort to hear from experts, immigration lawyers who have worked with the CBSA and the officers' union. I am convinced that the union has important things to tell the committee about this issue.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. I appreciate the introduction by the responsible.
I would like to say, first of all, that the Canada Border Services Agency carries on very important work for the safety of Canada and its citizens, and it enforces some 70 different regulations and pieces of legislation that have been passed by Parliament or enacted through proper processes. It is an important piece of work that the agency does. There are at least 7,000 agents, and they operate at 130 different border points, so the work they do is very important.
They also, in conducting this work, have pretty extraordinary powers, probably greater than many police and law enforcement agencies. They can arrest and detain people who they believe are in Canada illegally. They can arrest with or without warrant. They can arrest people who they suspect are in violation of the act and detain them for, in some cases, indefinite periods.
As has been pointed out, with 96 million travellers in and out of the country, we do not have 96 million complaints, obviously, so it is pretty clear that the work that they are doing is, for the most part, not subject to complaint.
I appreciate that when we talk about the complaints that are made, we are talking about exceptions to proper behaviour, potentially. The complaints may not end up being found to be valid in some cases, but we know that there are sufficient numbers of valid complaints to have a cause for concern that this enforcement agency is not immune to bad behaviour and improper conduct. We know that this has happened, because complaints have been founded by investigations conducted by the CBSA itself.
There has, for a long period of time, been cause for concern that there was a lack of oversight of this body. Justice O'Connor in 2010 recommended that this oversight take place, but it did not take place. We raised this issue as a party in the Conservative years, in 2010, after Justice O'Connor and before, and up until we joined the last Parliament as well. I was not here, but I know my colleagues have done so, and they were not the only ones. Recognized and respected public bodies, such as the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and others, have recognized and pointed out significant deficiencies in the activities and behaviour of the CBSA in the enforcement of its legislation.
It is kind of a given that this should happen. “Long overdue” are the words that have been used by the himself, recognizing that this legislation, or something like it, should have been brought forward a lot sooner than it was. It is unfortunate that this gap has not been addressed before this date, but we are heartened by the fact that it is here today.
I must say it was a half-hearted attempt by the Liberal government in the last Parliament to bring this legislation forward in the dying days of Parliament, several weeks before Parliament was to rise. It was passed over to the Senate on the 19th of June, the day before they were to rise, with no hope of any particular consideration there. The Liberal government deserves some blame for not bringing this legislation forward earlier to provide an opportunity for full discussion and debate.
There are some changes that have now been made. I did not get the sense from the 's remarks, when he was asked about consultations, that any significant consultation has taken place with the union that was involved. Its members appeared before the committee. The customs and immigration union does have something to say about this. I think the union is generally supportive of the idea that there ought to be accountability, because it also provides an opportunity for officers who may be the subject of a complaint to be exonerated if the complaint is not founded, and it can be done in a public way.
All that being said, we do have to look carefully at some of the provisions of this legislation. Is it going to simply be a review of internal complaints or internal investigations that have been made? To what extent is it going to provide for an independent investigation? The power exists there. The practice is something that we have to be concerned about.
Are we going to be in a backlog situation, as we have seen with the RCMP civilian review system? Additional monies have been provided, and I see provisions for standards of performance in terms of dealing with complaints. Whether those standards can be met by just establishing standards of performance and whether the government is committed to being responsive to requests by the agency for sufficient funds or more staff as needed to meet those standards is the problem sometimes with agencies that have this kind of oversight. We want to have a good look at that to see what is going on when these things take place.
The NDP supports this legislation in principle and we will certainly be supporting it at second reading. We will look to see whether the minister is willing to consider amendments during consideration in committee. I am not proposing any here today, but I do want to see that the minister is prepared to consider arguments that may be made to bring about changes that would enhance the legislation and make it more effective.
We have heard specific concerns as well from the legal community in terms of how the practices of the agency have affected solicitor-client privilege, and there are concerns about solicitor-client privilege. We want to make sure that these concerns are addressed if they have not been addressed already, and I am not sure they have been addressed.
We would also want to see the opportunity, and I raised this with the member for , to be involved in the policy and practices side of it. I note that in the legislation there is an opportunity for the committee itself to initiate reviews of specific practices. Whether it is going to be a robust effort on the part of the committee interests me. I suspect it may depend on who the committee members are.
I would want to see an opportunity for those kinds of reviews to take place through the initiative of someone else. For example, the Canadian Bar Association might want to see a review of a particular practice as it might affect a problem area, whether having to do with solicitor-client privilege or having to do with incidents that have come forward on a number of occasions. Other outside bodies as well might come to this body and ask it to conduct a review. I note that reviews can be done at the direction of the minister as well. That is something that may answer some of the concerns.
I am pretty sure this is not a perfect instrument, and I do not think it has been suggested that it is. It is a way forward, though, and NDP members supported it in the last Parliament because it was a step forward from what was in existence up until right now. There is no form of civilian oversight of this organization, and the lack of that kind of oversight has been noted for many years.
Enforcement officers have enormous powers, and they are a necessity. Officers deal in many cases with people in vulnerable circumstances, people who are refugees. Forty-one thousand refugees crossed into Canada during the last Parliament. These people are vulnerable. They are susceptible to being unable to complain or to feeling that complaining would potentially cause them problems, so vigorous oversight is needed there. It is important for us to ensure that this oversight takes place. There may be a need for third parties to approach the committee to make sure that the policies and practices that are in place adequately meet the required standards when enforcement officers are dealing with civilians whom they are entrusted to look after while also ensuring that the law is enforced.
Those are some of the concerns that New Democrats will be looking at carefully in committee. I am disturbed to hear that the examination of what happens in detention is excluded from this bill, but I am going to be looking very carefully at that. We do note, as was noted before in one of the speeches, that since the year 2000 there have been at least 14 deaths of people while in detention. I am not suggesting that these deaths were the result of negligence or improper behaviour, but the question remains. These were not able to be investigated by any outside agency specifically in relation to the behaviour toward and treatment of individuals who may have had ill treatment in custody. Whether or not there was in these individual cases, I am obviously not in a position to say.
However, the public must have confidence, ultimately, that there is a sufficient degree of transparency and oversight in order to believe that CBSA officers are acting not only in the public interest and for the safety of Canada, but also in a proper way when they are dealing with individuals, and that they are not abusing their position of power and trust. People must know they have recourse with a proper, independent, robust and accessible process that will make sure justice is done following any violation of proper and appropriate behaviour.
As was mentioned earlier, this is not something the union of the employees involved rejects. This is something it regards as proper and appropriate as well.
Having said all of that, New Democrats support this legislation being brought forward at second reading. We look forward to having an appropriate period of time to consider it and bring forward witnesses who can help with the analysis of it and offer their recommendations and opinions.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I rise today to speak to the important debate about Bill , which would entrench civilian oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency.
In following the debate thus far, I am very encouraged by the comments I have heard from the other side with respect to the importance of this kind of legislation, and its connection to the previous legislation that came forward in the last Parliament, notably Bill .
Canadians know that the CBSA is an entity and an agency that ensures Canada's security and Canadians' prosperity by facilitating and overseeing international travel and trade across our border. What is important is that it ensures the free flow of goods and people across that border.
What is critical to understand is how vast the CBSA is in its scope. It has a staff of approximately 14,000 individuals operating a wide range of integrated border services. It operates in 1,000 locations at 117 land border crossings and 13 international airports, as well as in 39 international offices. It interacts with literally thousands of Canadians daily and millions of people yearly. In 2017-18, the statistics are quite staggering: 96 million travellers were processed in total during that one calendar year. That gives us a sense of the size and scope of the CBSA.
I am rising here today on behalf of my constituents in Parkdale—High Park, because there are extensive powers granted to CBSA officials, and that is for good reason. The agency needs extensive powers in order to operate and function effectively and carry out these important functions, but with extensive powers has to come extensive accountability.
This is what we would call a sine qua non, a critical component of what is required for any law enforcement agency in the country. What was lacking up until the introduction of this bill and eventual, hopefully, passage of the bill is that accountability piece.
Let us talk about those extensive powers. When they are protecting Canadians, CBSA officials have the authority to arrest, detain, search and seize, as well as the authority to use reasonable force when required. At the border, as many Canadians know, officers have the power to stop travellers for questioning, to take breath and blood samples, and to search, detain and arrest non-citizens without a warrant. These are very critical powers. These are very broad powers.
The list of powers I have just provided to the chamber underscores the critical need for oversight. The powers of detention, search and seizure and the use of force are important to the work that CBSA does. However, that work, which we want to ensure is successful, would be jeopardized if the Canadian public does not have the confidence that those extensive powers are being used legitimately and appropriately in conformity with the rights that are protected in this country.
There is a simple way to ensure that public confidence. In legal parlance, we talk about the administration of justice, or the administration of the regime, being held up to wide repute. That is to ensure that there is a transparent public oversight mechanism done by a civilian body.
That is what I hear about from my constituents in Parkdale—High Park. That is what I hear about in my role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. People believe in entrenching law enforcement with certain powers because they understand the necessity of it, but there needs to be a counterbalance, which is a check on the illegitimate or inappropriate use of such powers which may occur in any policing body.
There is a cliché that applies to virtually everything that is done in law enforcement: The police should not be policing themselves. The investigators should not be investigating themselves. A body needs to be seen to be overseen by an external third party in order to ensure a measure of independence and a measure of neutrality. That is what we have critically with other law enforcement agencies in this country. That is what makes it so puzzling that we do not have it yet with the CBSA.
Let us turn to the RCMP, CSIS and Correctional Service Canada. They all have this independent form of review for their activities. It is critical. They have public trust in their institutions because of that oversight.
It is important that this bill would entrench that type of oversight, but is also important to think about who is supporting this kind of initiative. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have pointed out in numerous situations the need for independent investigation. They have cited examples. They are few but they are important, because of the scope of that work. They interact with 96 million travellers within a given year. That is staggering in terms of numbers.
Nevertheless, incidents have arisen over the last 10 to 15 years which bear dramatic scrutiny and highlight the need for this kind of civilian oversight.
In 2010, Kevon Philip was beaten to death in Toronto's Don Jail while being held in immigration detention. In 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez was taken into custody at the Vancouver International Airport. She was found hanging in a shower stall at the airport's immigration holding centre. Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan, a 39-year-old Toronto man, was granted refugee status in Canada after coming from Somalia in 1993. He died in June 2015 in a Peterborough hospital where he had been taken under police escort. He had spent four years at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay after serving a jail term for a criminal conviction and was issued a deportation order in 2005.
All told, since 2000, at least 15 people have died while in CBSA custody, including a 50-year-old woman who died in a maximum security prison in 2017. That track record has prompted Amnesty International, a well-known organization that all of us respect in this chamber, to call for an independent review body. That call has been echoed by my constituents and others that I have interacted with, not just in Parkdale—High Park but throughout the country. The call is simple: Let us pull back the curtain. Let us assure Canadians that the significant powers that have, of necessity, been granted to the CBSA to do its important work are at all times exercised appropriately, in accordance with the charter and with Canadians' fundamental rights.
Let us look at some comparisons with other law enforcement agencies in Canada. Independent civilian oversight ensures public confidence. Let us look at border services agencies in other allied countries that we want to compare ourselves to.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and France, the border services agencies are all subject to civilian external oversight. In fact, Canada is one of the few developed countries that does not have an independent review body for complaints made about the conduct of border agency staff. When we look at the Five Eyes allies, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, again, Canada is the only member right now without an independent review body.
The rationale is simple: Given the extraordinary powers granted to CBSA officers compared to all of the other public safety portfolio agencies as well as the Five Eyes international border agencies, there is currently a significant gap. It is a gap we had committed to close in the 2019 election after our previous attempts to do so in the last Parliament, as has been articulated by previous speakers, under Bill , as it then was, were unsuccessful. However, the bill did receive widespread support in this House in the last Parliament, and I am very hopeful that it will continue to receive widespread support, because the simplicity of the rationale of this bill is there for everyone to recognize, understand and to get behind. It is a gap that needs to be closed, and a gap that we would close today.
I would like to outline how this is a user-friendly mechanism. This mechanism would ensure oversight in a manner that addresses things like the recommendations that were made by Justice Dennis O'Connor in 2006 under the Maher Arar inquiry, when he called for independent oversight of border services agencies, including the CBSA and the RCMP. It would have the ability to investigate complaints received from both the public and public interest bodies and have the power to self-initiate reviews, which is something that Justice O'Connor mentioned specifically in his Arar inquiry report.
Currently, people's complaints about the CBSA are handled entirely internally. We know that, all told, about 2,500 complaints are received by the CBSA on an annual basis, which is a significant number. However, the fundamental point to understand in this chamber for today's debate is that handling those complaints internally is one mechanism, but it is not the most robust mechanism, and it is certainly not the mechanism that is applied to other law enforcement agencies in this country.
It is critical that members of the public be able to take complaints to an external body. However, this external body, this new public complaints mechanism, should be able to initiate reviews of its own volition. Therefore, it would not require a complaint to be filed in order to pursue a matter.
Regarding the examples I listed at the start of my comments, it is critical that there be a serious incident protocol or a serious incident definition entrenched in this proposed legislation. This would include the actions of a CBSA officer that constitute an assault as well as serious injury or death, including death of a person in detention.
When we are dealing with those grave circumstances, it obviously goes without saying that the Canadian public and we, as parliamentarians, require a measure of accountability to be put in place.
That is the measure of accountability that is forthcoming with this legislation. That is why I am standing in support of it. I hope all of my parliamentarian colleagues will do the same.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill , which seeks to establish a new, independent public complaints and review body for the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA. This represents another step forward in the government's commitment to ensuring that all of its agencies and departments are accountable to Canadians.
As a member of the public safety committee during the last Parliament, I am quite proud to have participated in legislation that made remarkable change and took the number of measures we took to ensure greater accountability of our security agencies and departments.
Two years ago, our Bill received royal assent, establishing the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. That addressed a long-standing need for parliamentarians to review the Government of Canada's activities and operations in regard to national security and intelligence. It has been in operation for some time now and is a strong addition to our system of national security review and accountability. As members will know, the committee has the power to review activities across government, including the CBSA.
To complement that, our committee studied our national security framework, as well as Bill , which allowed for the creation of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, or NSIRA. NSIRA is also authorized to conduct reviews of any national security or intelligence activity carried out by federal departments and agencies, including the CBSA. All of this is on top of existing review and oversight mechanisms in the public safety portfolio.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP investigates complaints from the public about the conduct of members in the RCMP, for example, and does so in an open, independent and objective manner. The Office of the Correctional Investigator conducts independent, thorough and timely investigations about issues related to Correctional Service Canada.
Bill would fill a gap in the review of the activities of our public safety agencies. The existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which is responsible for complaints against members of the RCMP, would see its name change to the public complaints and review commission and its mandate expanded to include the CBSA. It would be able to consider complaints against CBSA employee conduct or service, from foreign nationals, permanent residents and Canadian citizens, regardless of whether they are within or outside of Canada. Reviews of national security activities would be carried out by NSIRA.
Here is how it would work in practice. If an individual has a complaint unrelated to national security, she or he would be able to direct it either to the commission or to the CBSA. Both bodies would notify the other of any complaint made. The CBSA would be required to investigate any complaint, except those disposed of informally. The commission would be able to conduct its own investigation of the complaint in situations where the chairperson is of the opinion that doing so would be in the public interest. If an individual is not satisfied with the CBSA's response, the commission would be able to follow up as it sees fit.
The new PCRC would also be able to produce findings on the CBSA's policies, procedures and guidelines. It would also be able to review CBSA's activities, including making findings on CBSA's compliance with the law and the reasonableness and necessity of the exercise of its powers. Indeed, the commission's findings on each review would be published in a mandatory annual public report.
Bill not only fills a gap in our review system. It answers calls from the public and Parliament for independent review of CBSA. Most significantly, the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, in its 2015 report, encouraged the creation of an oversight body. I would like to acknowledge Bill from our last Parliament, introduced in the other place not long after the government took office, which proposed a CBSA review body as well.
Certainly we have heard from academics, experts and other stakeholders of the need to create a body with the authority to review CBSA. During testimony at the public safety committee on December 5, 2017, Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International, said, “how crucial it is for the government to move rapidly to institute full, independent review of CBSA.” This was reflective of much of the testimony we heard, and I am pleased the government is acting on this advice. I would also like to acknowledge my colleague from for her efforts and advocacy for the establishment of a CBSA review body.
The CBSA has a long and rich history of providing border services in an exemplary fashion. It does so through the collective contribution of over 14,000 dedicated professional women and men, women like Tamara Lopez from my community, who is a role model for young women looking for a career in the CBSA.
The CBSA already has robust internal and external mechanisms in place to address many of its activities. For example, certain immigration-related decisions are subject to review by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and its customs role can be appealed all the way up to the Federal Court.
That said, when it comes to the public, the CBSA should not be the only body receiving and following up on complaints about its own activities. Indeed, some Canadians might not be inclined to say a word if they do not have the confidence that their complaint will be treated independently, objectively and thoroughly. Bill would inspire that confidence.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that all of its agencies and departments are accountable to Canadians. Bill would move the yardstick forward on that commitment. It would bring Canada more closely in line with the accountability bodies of border agencies in other countries, including those of our Five Eyes allies.
The accountability and transparency of our national security framework has improved greatly since we were elected in 2015. This bill would continue these efforts by providing border services that keep Canadians safe and by improving public trust and confidence. Bill would ensure that the public continues to expect consistent, fair and equal treatment by CBSA employees. That is why I am proud to stand behind Bill today.
In the last Parliament, the House of Commons unanimously passed Bill , which was a bill to bring oversight to CBSA. Although that bill died in the Senate, it is my hope that all parties will again come together to pass this bill.
I listened to the member for speak earlier in this debate. He spoke at length about firearms and his petition opposing our promise to make Canadians safer by enhancing gun control. I would remind him that almost 80% of Canadians support a ban on military-style assault rifles according to an independent Angus Reid survey.
I know he and his party supported oversight of the CBSA in the last Parliament. I hope he and all members will join me in supporting oversight in this Parliament under Bill and assure the bill's passage this session.
Mr. Speaker, I stand today in this chamber and am pleased to speak for the first time as a re-elected member of Parliament for Yorkton—Melville. I and my fellow Saskatchewan caucus colleagues thank all our constituents for painting the province of Saskatchewan completely blue.
Bill actually mirrors Bill , an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. As we all know, the bill took so long to introduce that it was not passed prior to the 2019 federal election.
This legislation proposes to repurpose and rename the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to the “public complaints and review commission”. Under its new name, the commission will also be responsible for reviewing civilian complaints against the Canadian Border Services Agency. The bill would ensure that all Canadians law enforcement agencies would have an oversight body.
Canadians expect effective oversight of federal law enforcement agencies. The Liberals made a promise to do this in 2015.
During its previous mandate, the Liberal government took so long to act on this issue that Bill C-98 failed to be passed prior to the 2019 election.
The former Privy Council Office chief, Mel Cappe, had been hired to conduct an independent report and provide his recommendations in June 2017, which he did. However, it was only because of an access to information request by CBC News that Parliament even became aware of this report. For two years, the government and the then, and now no longer, public safety minister from Saskatchewan sat on that report.
We, who served in the previous Parliament, were counting down the days and nights until the session came to a close. Then, at the last possible moment, this rather straightforward and simple but essential legislation was finally introduced. Why did it take the previous majority Liberal government three and a half years to draft and introduce Bill C-98 to the House? In the eleventh hour, it was too late to deal with such a critical promise that impacted public safety.
The Liberals' poor management and bad decision-making impacted RCMP officers, who had to be deployed and dedicated to dealing with illegal border crossings. They were pulled from other details, from monitoring returned ISIS fighters, tackling organized crime. They were pulled from rural detachments, where the RCMP is already short staffed and dealing with an increase in rural crime. The claim that there are more police available in rural Canada is not true, a statement made and not followed through on.
When the Liberal majority government was ineptly unable to keep an election promise at the eleventh hour, so as to not appear to have broken even more promises, it meant an even longer wait, through the whole election process, through the weeks of delay before the House was finally called back by the to sit just before Christmas for a short time only to go into the winter break. Here we finally are today in a second attempt to get the job done of Bill .
The government has been plagued by inefficiency and lack of foresight since the beginning of its first mandate, further hamstringed by one ethical breach after another, through brazen attitudes of entitlement, to the foolish boldness of demanding and coercing our independent justice system and principled people to bow to executive power.
Just this past week we have seen the frightening fallout of the government putting their friends ahead of good governance: A violent man sentenced to life in prison in 2006 for viciously murdering his wife was granted day parole in the fall of 2019. His case manager indicated a moderate risk of reoffending and he was to avoid relationships but could have encounters with women, as long as it was strictly sexual. As a result, a young woman lost her life.
Who in their right mind would create the environment for any woman to be put in harm's way like this? Ex-parole board commissioner Dave Blackburn stated that “such a condition is 'unbelievable'”.
The Liberal government has to take responsibility for a foolish decision it made in 2015 to not renew any parole board appointees, purely a political decision that removed all historical experience from the board and replaced them all, through the Privy Council, with Liberal appointees.
I believe the desk will be pleased, Mr. Speaker, to hear I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Since then, there has been a more than 25% increase in the awarding of day parole in Canada. This is ridiculous. Canadians have no faith that an internal inquiry will get to the bottom of the incompetence that falls on the Liberal government. An external inquiry of the national Parole Board must take place. The government does not have credibility when it comes to dealing with its own self-serving, intentional mistakes.
As well, we know the delay in bringing forward this legislation was not due in any way to so many consultations. As a matter of fact, again and again, we have heard from stakeholders that they were not consulted. From what I have heard today on the floor, that has not changed.
This legislation proposes changes to the Canada Border Services Agency, yet the Customs and Immigration Union was never contacted. This is another blatant inconsistency by the government. On one end, there was no consultation. On the other, there was the virtue signalling of setting up advisory councils for our veterans but doing nothing other than giving a platform for photo ops and the appearance of consultation before the reveal.
The fact that the Liberal government could not be bothered to consult the biggest stakeholders, the union representatives of the CBSA front-line workers, says it is not about the workers. It appears the Liberals feel they can pick and choose which unions they are going to give special treatment to while others are totally ignored.
Conservative members will work with the government in the interests of the principles of the bill, but rest assured we want to make sure that the people impacted are part of the committee review process. We want to ensure that proper committee time is taken to look at the changes to the RCMP Act and the CBSA Act, and make sure we are doing a service to the people who will be impacted by them, whether it is on a public complaints process or other elements.
As good as this policy is, it needs good government to implement it, not a government consistently mired in scandal that loses track of its responsibilities and then, concerned about its re-election, attempts to rush this legislation through irresponsibly. It does not need a government that is so out of touch that it fails to consult with the Canadians who would be impacted.
The government's approach demonstrates a complete lack of accountability, care and respect for Canadians. There is unrest across western Canada that must not be ignored. I would warn that we must no longer be fuelled by intentional actions that encourage that unrest instead of building consensus and recognizing and celebrating healthy interdependence across our amazing country.
Our nation, and all people of Canada, deserve a government that legislates responsibly, respectfully and with the best interests of all Canadians in mind. I look forward to the day we form that government.
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first speech, I want to take the opportunity to thank the great people in the Kootenay—Columbia riding for putting their trust and faith in me to represent them in Ottawa. The support from my family and friends was incredible and from my wife, Heather and our five children, Ryan, Rob, Kassidy, Chelsea and Kendall.
With 80,000 square kilometres, it was very challenging to travel and meet residents from all corners of the riding. The campaign team and volunteers did an outstanding job, working long hours every day.
I listened to the concerns, the priorities for softwood lumber and priorities with the firearms legislation. I also want to talk about supporting the mining industry, tourism, the energy sector, Alberta, as it is neighbouring our riding, and health.
I am pleased to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act. I do so today on behalf of many border officials in ports of Kingsgate, Nelway, Porthill, Roosville and Rykerts, all within the riding of Kootenay—Columbia.
I thank them for their service and I thank the CBSA Kootenay area chief of operations for leadership and dedication in ensuring the safety and security of our area. I also support the RCMP, which provides municipal, rural, provincial and federal policing throughout the Kootenay—Columbia riding.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all the men and women who serve to protect this great nation from coast to coast.
One issue I heard when travelling throughout the riding was the word “accountability”, which is really interesting because that is exactly what we are talking about today.
I support internal investigations. In fact, I have been involved in many internal investigations in the RCMP in a 35-year career. I support independence. I believe we need independent investigations. It would be great to hear how this is going to work. I have not heard yet, with the delays in investigations. I know right now with the RCMP, which has an independent review, it is two, three or four years at least. We have some members on the old RCMP act and some members on the new act, and now we are going to change it again to have a new accountability process with this review committee.
I have heard some concerns about the consultation of CBSA with its union. I am also wondering about the consultation with the RCMP, as they are now working toward a union as well. Have we looked at the consultation there and have people come in? I look forward to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security having people come in so we can talk to them and see how they feel about what is happening.
One of the most important things that has not been brought up is training and service standards. What are the service standards of CBSA? What are the service standards of the RCMP? What exactly is the role of an RCMP member? The review committee can then understand what that person is going to do, what they should be doing and what they should not be doing, so they do not, because they have no experience in law enforcement, for example, think that behaviour is inappropriate when maybe it is or vice versa.
Developing service standards is a requirement before we can move forward with the bill, so that the review committee has a clear understanding of the role for CBSA and the role for the RCMP.
One thing that came up at one of the last meetings of the public safety committee was administrative issues that were not expected. I would be interested to hear from the government what those administrative issues were. Was it the hiring of new people? Was it the service standards or was it a union? I do not understand what administrative issues would have popped up in December.
The RCMP and CBSA are very reputable organizations. I want to be up front. They would welcome a well-thought-out, well-trained independent review, but not something where someone is appointed and we would run into the same issues we are having right now with the Parole Board.
I request that the government and the answer some of these questions so that we can move forward in supporting this bill and the changes proposed in it.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by saying that I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to today's debate on Bill , which proposes to establish an arm's-length review body for the Canada Border Services Agency.
The CBSA is already reviewed by several different independent boards, tribunals and courts. They scrutinize such things as the agency's customs and immigration decisions. However, there is no existing external review body for some of its other functions and activities.
For example, there is a gap when it comes to public complaints related to CBSA employee conduct and service. With the way things currently stand, there is also no independent review mechanism for the CBSA's non-national security activities. That makes the CBSA something of an outlier, both at home and abroad.
Other public safety organizations in Canada are subject to independent review, as are border agencies in a number of peer countries including the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and France. Addressing these accountability gaps through Bill would improve the CBSA's strength and would strengthen public confidence in the agency. It would ensure that the public could continue to expect consistent, fair and equal treatment by CBSA employees, and it would lead to opportunities for ongoing improvement in the CBSA's interactions and service delivery.
For an organization that deals with tens of millions of people each year, that is extremely important. Public complaints about the conduct of, and the service provided by, CBSA employees are currently dealt with only internally at the agency. I am sure all of my hon. colleagues would agree that this is no longer a tenable situation.
Under Bill , these complaints would instead be handled by a new arm's-length public complaints and review commission, or PCRC. The new PCRC would build on and strengthen the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, CRCC for short, which is currently the review agency for the RCMP. The CRCC would thus be given an expanded role under this bill and a new name to go along with its new responsibilities for the CBSA.
The PCRC would be able to receive and investigate complaints from the public regarding the conduct of the CBSA officials and the service provided by the CBSA. Service-related complaints could be about a number of issues. They could include border wait times and processing delays; lost or damaged postal items; the level of service provided; the examination process, including damage to goods or electronic devices during a search or examination; and CBSA infrastructure, including sufficient space, poor signage or the lack of available parking.
Service-related complaints do not include enforcement actions, such as fines for failing to pay duties, nor do they include trade decisions, such as tariff classification. Those types of decisions can already be considered by existing review mechanisms.
In addition to its complaints function, the PCRC would also review non-national security activities conducted by the RCMP and the CBSA. The PCRC reports would include findings and recommendations on the adequacy, appropriateness, sufficiency or clarity of CBSA policies, procedures and guidelines; the CBSA's compliance with the law and ministerial directions; and the reasonableness and necessity of the CBSA's use of its powers. The CBSA would be required to provide a response to those findings and recommendations for all complaints.
The creation of the PCRC is overdue. It would answer long-standing calls for an independent review of public complaints involving the CBSA.
According to former parliamentarian and chair of the NATO Association of Canada at Massey College, Hugh Segal, the lack of oversight for the CBSA is not appropriate and is unacceptable.
Former CBSA president Luc Portelance also said that when a Canadian citizen or a foreign national engages with a border officer and has a negative interaction, the entire review mechanism is not public. It is internal, and it is not seen as independent. In Mr. Portelance's view, that creates a significant problem in terms of public trust.
The Government of Canada has committed to rectifying this situation by addressing gaps in the CBSA's framework for external accountability.
With the introduction of Bill , the government is delivering on that commitment. It builds on recent action taken by the government to strengthen accountability on national security matters. That includes passing legislation to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. It also includes the creation, through Bill , of the new expert review body, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. These two bodies are now in operation and they are doing extremely important work in terms of reviewing the national security activities of all departments and agencies, including the CBSA.
Bill would go further by establishing a review and complaints function for CBSA's other activities. In doing so, it would fill the gap in the architecture of public safety accountability in this country. It would allow for independent review of public complaints related to CBSA employee conduct, issues regarding CBSA services, and the conditions and treatment of immigration detainees. With respect to these detainees specifically, Bill C-3 would offer additional safeguards to ensure that they are treated humanely and are provided with necessary resources and services while detained.
The introduction of this bill demonstrates a commitment to keeping Canadians safe and secure while treating people fairly and respecting human rights. It is a major step forward in ensuring that Canadians are confident in the accountability system for the agencies that work so hard to keep them safe.
For all the reasons I have outlined today, I will be voting in favour of Bill at second reading. I urge all of my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in this House and add my voice to the debate on Bill which proposes to establish an arm's-length review and complaints function for the CBSA.
The bill before us builds on an action that our government had recently taken to strengthen accountability and transparency in the public safety and national security sphere. As members know, we passed legislation to create the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, and that committee has now been established. Following the passage of Bill , we also created a new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. The goal of both of these bodies is to provide accountability for the national security work of all Government of Canada departments and agencies, including the CBSA.
Strong internal and external mechanisms are in place to address many of the CBSA's other activities. For example, certain decisions in the immigration context are subject to review by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Its customs decisions can be appealed to the Canadian International Trade Tribunal as well as to the Federal Court. However, the glaring gap that remains has to do with the public complaints related to the conduct of, and service provided by, CBSA employees.
There is simply no independent place to which people can turn when they have a grievance about the way they were treated by someone representing the CBSA. Without an independent body specifically tasked to hear complaints, it is easy to see how people can feel uncomfortable voicing any concerns. Bill would change that by establishing an independent review and complaints function for the CBSA. That new tool would be incorporated into, and benefit from the expertise and experience of, the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or CRCC, for the RCMP.
To reflect its new CBSA responsibilities, the CRCC would be renamed the “public complaints and review commission”, or PCRC. Members of the public who deal with the CBSA would be able to submit a complaint to any officer or employee of the agency or to the PCRC. The CBSA would conduct the initial investigation into a complaint, whether it is submitted to the CBSA or to the PCRC. However, the PCRC would have the ability to investigate any complaint that is considered to be in the public interest. It could also initiate a complaint proactively. In the event that a complainant was not satisfied with the CBSA's response to a complaint, he or she could ask the PCRC to review the CBSA's response. The PCRC would also have a mandate to conduct overarching reviews of specified activities of the CBSA. All of this would bring the CBSA in line with Canada's other public safety organizations, which are currently subject to independent review, and it would allow Canada to join the ranks of peer countries with respect to adding accountability functions for their border agencies.
Recourse through the PCRC would be available to anyone who interacts with CBSA or RCMP employees. This includes Canadian citizens, permanent residents and foreign nationals, including immigration detainees. Most of these detainees are held in CBSA-managed immigration holding centres. When that is not possible, CBSA detainees are placed in other facilities, including provincial correctional facilities. The CBSA has established agreements with B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia for detention purposes.